Research Paper

Adivasis on the March – Crisis and Cultural Genocide in Tribal India  

By Gladson Dungdung & Felix Padel

IMG_1216India’s tribal people are in ferment after a Supreme Court (SC) judgment in February 2019 ordered eviction of over a million tribal families from traditional lands where claims under the Forest Rights Act (2006)[1] have been rejected – as the majority have been, due to obstruction from forest officials and a multitude of murky vested interests.[2] Adivasis are on the march in many states,[3] despite a stay on the judgment asked for by the main political parties.[4]

The case at the SC was brought by several conservation groups. Yet evicting Adivasis is the last thing likely to save India’s surviving forests.[5] Despite hard work by hundreds of dedicated people in conjunction with thousands of tribal families battling mindless bureaucracy, government officials overall have failed outrageously to implement the Forest Rights Act, that was meant to start correcting the massive historic injustice towards Adivasis.[6]

The SC order and Adivasi reactions unfolded in February-March 2019, after vicious government repression of an Adivasi resurgence known as the Pathalgadi movement, in Jharkhand, Odisha and Chhattisgarh. Pathalgadi (‘installation of stone slab’) represents a highly original attempt to assert Adivasi autonomy and control over land, territory and resources, which has been recognised through several laws, that have not been properly implemented by most state governments (See here).[7]

The context is one of vastly accelerating dispossession of hundreds of tribal communities in India;[8] and the (often admitted) overall failure to implement the PESA (Panchayat [Extension to Scheduled Areas]) Act of 1996, that was meant to decentralise control in tribal areas, giving tribal people the real autonomy supposedly guaranteed under Schedules V & VI of India’s Constitution. Similarly, the Forests Rights ACT (FRA) of 2006 was meant to correct a historic injustice by giving tribal people their due rights to the forests they have always lived in. The SC order appalled tribal rights activists already reeling from the scale of repression.[9] Government representatives failed even to appear in court to answer the highly distorted charges brought by the ‘anti-Adivasi’ conservation groups.[10]

IMG_1304Erecting megaliths is an ancient custom among many of India’s tribal peoples, for commemorating the dead among other purposes. The custom of erecting pathalgadi stones with quotations from the Constitution or PESA Act was initiated by B.D. Sharma along with senior police officer Bandi Oraon, after PESA was passed in 1996. The practice was revived in 2016-17, in Jharkhand, Odisha and Chhattisgarh, in the face of a rising tide of looming land grabs. One part of this was an unprecedented ‘Land Bank’ portal started by the Jharkhand (and other) governments in 2016, which involved listing Adivasi common or unregistered lands, including sacred groves, as available for investors to buy.[11] By January 2019 this Land Bank listed over two million acres of Adivasi lands in Jharkhand,[12] with a similar phenomenon in Odisha,[13] and other states.

Erecting these large, inscribed stones therefore responds to an urgent need to spread recognition of Adivasis’ legally recognised rights.[14] The stones are inscribed with words from India’s Constitution and PESA, that delegate authority to village councils (Gram Sabhas). By April 2018, the Pathalgadi movement was spreading fast,[15] with its epicentre in Khunti district.

IMG_1253Then an event occurred in June 2018 that led to a wave of extreme repression. Several women actors were reported to have been abducted and raped on 19th June after performing at a Catholic school near Kochang village in Khunti district, and the perpetrators were said to be leaders of the Pathalgadi movement. Many elements of the story did not add up however (See here, The Wire report),[16] and those arrested included the school principle, who was certainly innocent, and is still jailed.[17] Police kept the women under ‘protection’ for two months, with no media access, and on their release, they were reportedly told not so speak out, with death threats to them and their families if they did so. No-one who has investigated the incident closely believes that the rape really happened at all.

Just one week later, a police firing took place 50 kms away, after Ghagra village erected a Pathalgadi. Police were angry about the new stone, and threatened villagers with death if they erected more; supposedly, they were also searching for two of the leaders accused of the rape (Joseph Purty and John Junas Tidu, of Udburu village), as well as three Adivasi security guards, who had been abducted from an Adivasi MP’s house (that of Karia Munda in Charidih village), in a bid to insist on dialogue with the police after several Pathalgadi activists had been beaten up. The police firing took place on 26th June, when an estimated 2,000 villagers were opposing the entry of about 500 armed police into Ghagra. One man was killed, and several badly wounded. The slain Adivasi was named Birsa Munda, after the iconic leader who resisted British rule and died in jail in 1900.This young Birsa Munda was from Chamri village, one of the first to erect Pathalgadi stones in Khunti in 2016-17.[18]

Repression soon became very severe,[19] involving many arrests and charges brought by police against over 10,000 Pathalgadi activists. The movement has been branded ‘anti-national’, and Maoist-instigated,[20] with revered non-tribal supporters such as Stan Swamy targeted too.[21]

            This repression was compounded by the murder of Amit Topno in December 2018, a Hindi language journalist covering the Pathalgadi movement in Khunti and its suppression. There has been no proper investigation yet, let alone justice for Amit.[22]

Recently, a new spate of forced takeovers of Adivasi lands has occurred in several parts of Jharkhand, especially for a new coal-fired power plant by Adani in Godda district (in the state’s northeast, bordering Bihar and West Bengal). Villagers have been beaten up and their crops bulldozed, with widely circulated photos of a woman touching an Adani official’s feet, begging him not to do this. Adani’s plan is for a mega-power plant near Godda, for which coal would be brought from Adani’s controversial new mine in Australia, with electricity sold at a large profit to Bangladesh.[23] Similarly extreme repression has taken place against Adivasi protestors against a huge Adani coal project in Surguja district in north Chhattisgarh.[24] This follows years of mining takeovers in many tribal areas of central India, where open-cast coalmining has devastated hundreds of square kilometres of forest, displacing hundreds of  villages, despite strong Adivasi-led movements against this, for example in North Karampura valley in Hazaribagh district of Jharkhand.

As Virginius Xaxa has pointed out, one of India’s most respected sociology professors of tribal origin, depicting the Pathalgadi movement as ‘anti-national’ is deeply ironic, since its aim is to disseminate the established and neglected laws of the the Indian Government.[25]

Jharkhand’s Adivasis have been marching in large numbers.[26] It is well recognised that tribal communities have preserved India’s forests better than anyone,[27] and over 100 conservationists have joined calls for rescinding the Supreme Court order.[28]

There are too many vital struggles by tribal communities in India to summarise briefly, including uproar on several issues in Northeast India,[29] some involving mass displacement by big dams, oil and infrastructure projects.[30] Adivasis in north Odisha have vowed to boycott the upcoming elections, since the main parties are so apathetic towards their essential needs and rights.[31] Asurs, Birhors and other members of ‘Particularly Vulnerable Groups’ (PVTGs) are neglected and discriminated against outrageously (see here).[32]

Courageously, Sukhram Munda, the headman of Kochang village, near where the alleged gang-rape took place, has spoken out about how he was manipulated into signing land acquisition papers by police bringing a completely bogus case against him, while other villagers were tricked into signing land away through police gifts of sarees and dhotis. The school for which he donated land has been occupied by armed police, who are seeking more land to set up a permanent camp.[33]

To say that tribal people are being displaced by ‘development’ compounds the injustice.[34] What is forcing the displacement is financial investment, that is making a small number of people rich by sacrificing tens of thousands of those human beings living most sustainably in ecosystems they have lived in symbiosis with for centuries, that are now getting destroyed and turned into wastelands at an unprecedented speed – ecocide unfolding alongside cultural genocide.

The setting up and expansion of boarding schools for tribal children is making this cultural genocide much more intense,[35] promoting an unacknowledged policy of assimilation into the mainstream, that follows very closely the pattern of ‘stolen generation’ boarding schools into which indigenous children were forced throughout North America and Australia[36] – a deeply harmful policy for which the Prime Ministers of Canada and Australia have apologized to their indigenous citizens.[37] The first ‘industrial school’ was set up for native American children near Pittsburgh in 1878.

The policy of assimilation through boarding schools in north America and Australia ended in the 1970s-80s. In India, by contrast, boarding schools for tribal children are getting more numerous and bigger, and recent government directives are for more boarding schools and greater digitialisation of education, removing learning even further from community control.[38] In ‘Ashram schools’ for tribal children, which number several thousand and are now complemented by many more models of private and government tribal boarding schools (such as ‘Eklavya’ and Kasturba Gandhi residential schools), it is regular practice for children to have their hair cut short on enrolment, and to be given a new Hindu name – just as they were assigned Christian names in North America.[39] Traditional languages, ornaments and even religious practices are regularly banned. In many such schools, Sanskrit is taught – a wonderful, ancient language, but alien to tribal culture, while no less ancient languages such as Gondi and about 400 other tribal languages find no place in the curriculum. As a result of the humiliation and denigration associated with these languages, most show a sharp decline, even though Article 350A of India’s Constitution insists on every child’s right to be taught in their mother tongue. The result is a situation of linguistic genocide, and ‘miseducation’.[40]

The world’s biggest boarding school right now is called KISS (Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences) in Bhubaneswar, Odisha, which houses about 27,000 children from all 62 of Odisha’s Scheduled Tribes (STs), and increasing numbers of tribal children from other states too. Parents are enticed into sending their children to this distant school, even though the experience often alienates them from their families, communities and natural environment. This happens through recruitment agents throughout Odisha and beyond, with tribal development agencies, principals of local schools and even police officials persuading parents to send their children to KISS for a free education, with extravagant promises.

Children at KISS are allowed home only once a year. Special foods that their families send with them back to school are automatically thrown away in front of the children when they arrive in the school premises. Mobile phones through which they could keep in touch with their families are reportedly completely forbidden, and if found on children are confiscated or even broken in front of them. Since children can only go home once a year, this banning of mobiles, even to older children, who cannot phone home easily even when they fall ill, greatly accentuates childrens’ sense of isolation and incarceration at KISS.

The institution has won accolades from all sides for the free education on offer ‘from KG [kindergarten] to PG [post-graduate level]’, and its founder Achyuta Samanta’s claim to be doing a major social service to India’s tribal people has won him a recent award from the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes.[41] This promotion is being done by government officials, some very senior,[42] even though the model is a private one. In effect, the government is abdicating its responsibility towards education, with day schools being closed in large numbers.[43]

In addition to the cultural genocide that boarding schools are contributing to, they are also directly damaging a huge number of individual children. Thousands have died in residential schools across India and sexual abuse has been reported repeatedly from tribal boarding schools in Odisha,[44] Chhattisgarh,[45] and elsewhere.

What is particularly sinister about this trend towards large boarding schools is that much of this industrial scale, regimented schooling is being funded by the very mining companies that are seeking to grab tribal lands. Adani is setting up a tribal boarding school called ‘Adani Vidya Mandir’ in Surguja district of Chhattisgarh, where it is grabbing tribal lands for coal mining, funded through its CSR (‘corporate social responsibility’);[46] with another project spreading computerised education in tribal schools in Godda district of Jharkhand where it is using force to acquire land for its power plant. The NMDC (National Mineral Development Corporation) that is expanding iron-ore mines and trying to set up a steel plant in south Chhattisgarh, has set up an ‘Education City’ in Dantewada district,[47] with several more under construction. As for KISS, it has MOU (memoranda of understanding) with Vedanta, Nalco, NMDC and Adani. The Vedanta MOU, for example, promises 20,000 rupees per year from the company for every Dongria Kondh child sent to KISS for education.[48] In other words, it looks as though tribal children are being brainwashed and alienated from their communities so as to facilitate massive further land grabs in the near future.

Other educational models exist! An expanding number of culturally sensitive, small-scale schools in different areas make learning fun,[49] and use tribal languages – a multilingual model that educational research shows produces far better results for improving literacy than imposing a mainstream language from the start. Nagaland has a model in which every village community exercises responsibility over local schools.[50] Is it possible that we can reverse the learning?[51] How can the cultural genocide be stopped? The mainstream world needs to start learning the values of sharing and sustainability from tribal communities, while education for Adivasi children has to become something that is fun and genuinely liberating, while serving their interests and under their own communities’ control.

[1]https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/energy-and-environment/what-is-forest-rights-act/article26419298.ece?fbclid=IwAR3X0cOo-Shgn7h4QihRLdSWrcX_gb4sXzU3JPI0hoqJ-mAIKMJ1WX4Kst4

[2]https://scroll.in/article/914404/five-reasons-why-claims-by-forest-dwellers-for-their-land-are-low-and-rejections-are-high?fbclid=IwAR2OThS-dFuzr5aR8BP4nigR4n8ZpyRk-3-hMqnZlxBtXUaSzzkjBCc5wyA

[3]https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/tribals-protest-against-their-eviction-from-forests/articleshow/68245292.cms?fbclid=IwAR089Xw794aU3U6R4Sx1mEBn1kRJPvTOq43dKrEA6A8I76mG7rtN-nzMu0w

[4]https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/bjp-congress-cms-to-appeal-scs-forest-order/articleshow/68160730.cms?fbclid=IwAR0_vJ7nsOf3XflQGpzRElnGTMhN5OAcBvVBtEdDasbnDlpI-KfyIM4bcls

[5]https://www.news18.com/news/opinion/opinion-dear-urban-activists-evicting-tribals-does-not-do-wildlife-conservation-any-favours-2056403.html?fbclid=IwAR1p4Dgjsadytt34Uh1WQWZ41pDRPaCEQUTxh2SyDd1eBRhmc5FBK8WMuH0

[6]https://scroll.in/article/914820/conservation-groups-should-be-helping-adivasis-save-forests-instead-they-are-working-to-evict-them?fbclid=IwAR1M_mek29uIT0qL6cjYSnadF448ENFIHTjeTg0lV_K5UVaFcZRbLUfB4SY

[7] https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Pathalgarhis-long-shadow-Indias-tribal-heartland-wants-freedom-from-govt-control/articleshow/67673490.cms

[8] https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/feb/25/land-grab-tribal-people-india-adivasi?fbclid=IwAR3VUCNOmbrskFiJcSNYBjLeQcZ7ibl0B-FMTKP8YCIyYp9I2tMDRmE_jQI

[9] https://www.counterview.net/2019/02/pro-corporate-supreme-court-order-on.html?spref=fb&fbclid=IwAR24z2Ad1TSKulOf0m3bGwPsVEQ-io7rY6LDt-OZkAcpXrbTnnDj2PrJZT0

[10] https://countercurrents.org/2019/02/23/corporate-conservationists-use-judicial-process-to-annihilate-indias-indigenous-people/?fbclid=IwAR2qiOBnZzAOmsy1acFYSCNK4jAOj4A1GHIXGZKRi58cdR75TbhrWaaXrB8

[11] Jharkhand Land Bank Portal inaugurated, Times of India 5 January 2016, at https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/good-governance/jharkhand/Jharkhand-land-bank-portal-inaugurated/articleshow/50448318.cms

[12]https://adivasihunkar.com/2019/01/10/a-memorandum-to-the-governor-of-jharkhand-against-the-land-bank/

[13]https://www.downtoearth.org.in/news/governance/odisha-govt-lures-industries-via-land-banks-alienates-people-from-commons-61496

[14] https://thewire.in/politics/jharkhand-religious-freedom-bill-tribes-cnt-spt

[15]https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/the-pathalgadi-rebellion/article23530998.ece

[16]https://thewire.in/rights/police-targeting-pathalgadi-supporters-in-the-jharkhand-gang-rape-case-report

[17] https://thewire.in/rights/jharkhand-pathalgadi-movement-abduction-violence

[18] https://thewire.in/rights/jharkhand-pathalgadi-movement-gang-rape-police-firing

[19] https://thewire.in/rights/jharkhand-pathalgadi-movement-abduction-violence

[20]https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/pathalgadi-a-naxal-act-to-spread-anarchy-jual-oram/articleshow/65047474.cms

[21] https://thewire.in/rights/pathalgadi-movement-adivasis-stan-swamy-sedition

[22]https://thewire.in/rights/amit-topno-journalist-jharkhand-pathalgadi

[23]https://www.indiaspend.com/taking-over-fertile-land-for-adani-group-from-protesting-farmers-jharkhand-government-manipulates-new-law-meant-to-protect-them/

[24]https://caravanmagazine.in/communities/coal-mining-hasdeo-forests-protests?fbclid=IwAR3zREf6lEKYixW0JyTLqFR8VcMRw_SuoJTeJUUsTBbj6k-6vUWKOdXKXsc

[25] https://adivasihunkar.com/2019/01/12/is-the-pathalgadi-movement-in-tribal-areas-anti-constitutional/

[26]https://www.sabrangindia.in/article/10000-jharkhand-tribals-protest-against-sc-order-evicting-forest-dwellers-ancestral-lands?fbclid=IwAR1bJtCAUunTZG9CSSC5yIKp2agz3Swdu3j4Rmc_V6ajop1qSuQPmhSpHOI

[27] https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/how-to-kill-a-forest-adivasis-forest-dwellers-evicted-conservationists-5603789/?fbclid=IwAR0wtLtosyCJ59xYX83pYGj1sbnuxDSbmgmAk9ib0fKLEhX9NVooqDiCHsw

[28] https://www.counterview.in/2019/02/100-indian-world-conservationists.html?fbclid=IwAR3daOkTb0tQi3toO3wFhfWVx-s3KotLPgY1NBa2vwjT4hBKUr3S847IUQo

[29] https://www.thehindubusinessline.com/news/fear-and-loathing-in-the-north-east-citizenship-bill-brings-region-to-boiling-point/article25986291.ece

[30] http://e-pao.net/epSubPageExtractor.asp?src=education.Human_Rights_Legal.Natural_Resources_Management_in_Manipur_By_Jiten_Yumnam

[31]http://www.newindianexpress.com/states/odisha/2019/mar/04/harried-tribals-of-chakidi-vow-to-boycott-upcoming-elections-1946467.html?fbclid=IwAR3OF7TphY0Ura_3Dd6_Amsoatbn5TA76Hj9OV2WMT4tDrSRia0nlf4iBjU

[32]https://adivasihunkar.com/2019/01/16/the-betrayed-asurs-of-jharkhand/

[33]https://adivasihunkar.com/2019/03/05/i-was-forced-to-sign-on-the-land-acquisition-papers-sukhram-munda/

[34]https://www.epw.in/node/153848/pdf?0=ip_login_no_cache%3Dae806304c296901be13ee691f89f03db

[35]https://www.anthro.ox.ac.uk/files/jaso10120182247pdf

[36]http://www.creativespirits.info/aboriginalculture/politics/aguide-to-australias-stolen-generations#toc0

[37] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/dec/15/justin-trudeau-pledges-reconciliation-canada-aboriginal-abuse

[38] https://www.indiatoday.in/union-budget-2018/story/budget-2018-eklavya-model-schools-in-tribal-majority-areas-by-2022-says-arun-jaitley-1158993-2018-02-01

[39] https://www.survivalinternational.org/articles/3524-residentialschools

[40]https://www.downtoearth.org.in/coverage/miseducation-in-bastar-13347

[41] https://kalingatv.com/state/kiss-conferred-with-ncst-leadership-award-for-exemplary-services-towards-st/

[42] https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/the-idea-of-kiss-2/

[43] https://scroll.in/article/738028/chhattisgarh-is-closing-down-schools-in-areas-where-it-should-expand-them

[44]http://zeenews.india.com/news/odisha/orissa-cm-ordersprobe-into-sexual-abuse-of-tribal-girls_612376.html

[45] https://www.indiatoday.in/india/east/story/dhanora-sexual-assault-case-neeta-naag-vinod-naag-kanya-ashram-tribal-school-superintendent-dhanora-village-chhattisgarh-184413-2014-03-11

[46] http://indiacsr.in/dr-priti-adani-fronts-adani-vidya-mandir-surguja-chhattisgarh-educate-underprivileged/

[47] https://www.indiatoday.in/education-today/news/story/chattisgarh-dantewada-educationcity-109956-2012-07-17

[48] https://www.thehindubusinessline.com/news/national/vedanta-funds-education-of-100-underprivileged-tribal-children/article23080857.ece

[49] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gSIaAIP-wwM

[50] https://www.outlookindia.com/newswire/story/success-story-of-nagalands-communitisation-programme/575565

[51] https://www.downtoearth.org.in/news/economy/reverse-the-learning-57776

Interview

I was forced to sign on the land acquisition papers: Sukhram Munda

Sukhram of KochangSukhram Munda is the village headman of Kochang, located in Khunti district of Jharkhand (India). The village was widely known after the incident of gang-rape and it is still in the news for illegal and forceful land acquisition. Gladson Dungdung spoke to Sukhram Munda on the Issue. Excerpt from the interview.

Gladson: How did you join the Pathalgari Movement (Movement for installation of stone slab)?

Sukhram: We were not aware about the provisions of the Indian Constitution. When we heard about the Pathalgadi Movement, some members of the Gram Sabha (village council) participated in some meetings of the Pathalgari Movement, and found is as crucial for the village to protect our land, territory and resources because our area comes under the Fifth Scheduled of the Constitution, where land cannot be acquired without the consent of Gram Sabha. Soon, I conducted a Gram Sabha’s meeting to discuss on Pathalgadi, where all members participated and agreed to install a stone slab at the entrance of our village. Thereafter, we collected the money and bought a stone slab, where the constitutional provisions were curved and installed at the entrance of village on 25th February, 2018.

Gladson: The government authorities claim that Pathalgari Movement is unconstitutional. What is you respond to it?

Sukhram: I don’t think it is unconstitutional. In fact, we have curved the constitutional provision on the stone slab to educate and make aware our Adivasis. Pathalgari is our tradition. We install stone slabs in many social and cultural occasions.

Gladso: The Indian Media claimed that the Adivasis have put barricades at the entrance of the villages. The President of India, the Prime Minister, the Governor, the Chief Minister and other government authorities cannot enter in the village without permission of the Gram Sabha. They must pay tax to the Gram Sabha before entering to the village. Are these allegations true?

Sukhram: These are fake allegations. We have not stopped anyone from entering to our village. Everyone is freely moving here. There is no such barricade or tax system.

Gladson: Pathalgadi leaders Joseph Purty had given a call to boycott the government’s welfare schemes, health & education facilities and developmental activities. Do you agree with him?

Sukhram: Kochang Gram Sabha is very clear about the Pathalgadi, which is good for our village to protect our natural resources but we are against of boycotting welfare schemes, health & education facilities and developmental activities. I have given my land for school in free of cost, health sub-center is being run in my house for last couple of decades and Aanganbadi center was also in my house. Therefore, how can someone blame me of boycotting government’s schemes?

Gladson: You claim that Pathalgadi Movement is to protect land and other natural resources, can you tell me what kind of threat is on the village’s natural resources?

Sukhram: After Kochang gang-rape incident, a police camp was setup in school of my village. I have given land for school in free of cost but another 14 decimals of my land were grabbed for construction of toilet for Jawans(constables) without my consent and compensation.

Gladson: Do you want compensation for your land?

Sukhram: No. I want my land back. How can the government acquire anybody’s land without his/her consent? I know that Adivasis will not survive with compensation. We need land for our existence.

Gladso: Did government take your consent for using school as the security camp?

Sukhram: No. It was done in the night. The para-military forces landed in the night and school was vacated. The teachers were told that their school is merged with the Middle school of Ruguddih village, which is four kilometers far from here.

Gladson: How many children were studying in school? Where are they now? have they shifted to the Middle School, Ruguddih?

Sukhram: 35-36 children of Kochang were studying in the school. Now, they have stopped going to school. The school is far so they don’t want to go. How will I convince them to go to school? This is denial of right to education of our children.

Gladson: Is there any other case of land grabbing in Kochang?

Sukhram: Yes. There is a major case of land grab. The government authorities are violating the power of Gram Sabha for grabbing land of the village. The government intends to setup a permanent police camp in the village but we are against of it. We don’t need a security camp. We are safe without the police.

Gladson: Can you tell me how the government authorities are violating the laws to grab the land in Kochang.

Sukhram: The Circle Officer (CO) of Arki block issued a notice to conduct the Gram Sabha’s meeting for acquisition of 2.47 acre of land for the construction of a community hall. We objected it because how can the CO issues such notice? Only the Gram Sabha has the power to call such meeting. We already have a community hall in the village therefor we don’t need one more community hall. We wanted to know that what kind of community hall the government is going to build in such a huge patch of land? We were surprised to know that government wants to acquire our land for the security camp under the guise of a community hall to avoid the protest, and when we started objecting, the government authorizes are suppressing our voices.

Gladson: Can you explain me how your voices were suppressed and what kind of power is being used to acquire the land?

Sukhram: I was harassed by the police. I’m under their surveillance. On 29th October, 2018, I had gone to Ranchi to attend a seminar. While returning home, the police caught me in Khunti and I was taken to Khunti police station where the Officer-in-Charge (OC) of Arki police station was also present. The OCs of Khunti and Arki forced me to sign on the land acquisition paper. They threatened me to imprison in the false charges of participating in Pathalgari Movement if I disobey them. They said that once I were imprisoned, I would never get out of the Jail. I’m already facing four false cases therefor I was afraid of them so signed on the land acquisition papers. They released me at 11 PM after signing the papers.

Gladson: What kind of cases you are facing?

Sukhram: All four cases are regarding the Pathalgari Movement. I was falsely accused of participating in some events of the Pathalgari Movement, where I was not part of but I was in Ranchi during those events. I have proof too. For instance, I was charged in a case of Kanki, where police personnel were hostage by the Gram Sabha but I was not present in Kanki that day. I was in Ranchi for treatment of my eyes.

Gladson: What happened after you were released from Khunti police station?

Sukhram:  After going back to village. I called for the Gram Sabha’s meeting on 30th October 2018, obeying the CO’s order for land acquisition but the government officers did not turn up. Our time was wasted. On the next day, the OC of Arki police station arrived at Kochang’s village market with three Vehicles. Two vehicles are loaded with Sarees and Dhotis (cloths for Men and Women) and another vehicle was full of police personnel. They distributed the cloths among men and women who were present in the village market and got their signature and thumb impression on blank papers. When some villagers asked them the reason for clothe distribution, they said that they are distributing clothes for ‘Sohrai’ festival. Later, we came to know that the document was converted as the Gram Sabha’s resolution for land acquisition. Immediately, we had a meeting in the village and sent a protest letter to the District Land Acquisition Officer, Khunti. I also met the DLAO, who told me that the Gram Sabha has given its consent for the land acquisition. He showed me the papers which I had signed in the police station and the villagers had singed and impressed their thumbs for receiving clothes. This is how we were cheated and betrayed.

Gladson: Now what will you do to protect the land?

Sukhram: We will fight till our last breath. We have no choice. We will also approach to the Jharkhand High Court.

Gladson: Are you not afraid of the government? The police camp is near your house are you safe? Is there any incident of police atrocity in the village?

Sukhram: Do we have any choice rather than fight for our survival? We have not yet faced any such atrocity in the village but it will not remain the same forever.

Gladson: The Pathalgari Movement is blamed for opium cultivation. While coming to Kochang, I saw opium plants both side of the road. What you have to say?

Sukhram : The Pathalgari Movement has nothing do with the opium cultivation. You have seen how opium is being cultivated in the region openly. The police camp is in Kochang and Jawans go for patrolling everyday but they don’t destroy the opium plants. I’m surprised! I have told the police officers several times about it but they don’t bother for it. I don’t know why?

Gladson: Kochang village was defamed worldwide for gang rape. Can you tell me about it?

Sukhram: I don’t know much about it. The victims also did not meet me. I came to know about the unfortunate incident through newspaper only. But I can say that Fr. Alphonse is innocent but he was falsely accused because he creates awareness among the Adivasis.